No Space to Spare

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Todd Hammonds is stuck on Band-Aid brand, but for reasons far beyond germs. As the UC Santa Cruz Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS) facility center supervisor, Hammonds can only apply so many fresh coats of paint, or remodel so many front desks to make his facilities appear more up-to-date.

“Our facilities are becoming outdated,” Hammonds said. “We keep on putting on — we call them Band-Aids, Band-Aids, Band-Aids, Band-Aids — and it would be great if there was a student protest for building a new rec center, or an uprising about this place, so we can stop the Band-Aids.”

The indoor OPERS facilities on the east side of campus take up 23,000 square feet, including the 6,185 square foot Wellness Center, UCSC’s primary gym. Hammonds said that equates to 1.3 square feet per person in the Wellness Center, which is the lowest amount for any UC gym.

“The majority of UCs are probably around three to seven square feet per person, so you can see we are way below,” Hammonds said. “We had 2,500 participants come through our door on [Sept. 30], so for that 1.3 square feet that we do have, it’s way overutilized.”

A realistic option to rip off these Band-Aids to allow for new construction is a referendum to maintain and expand OPERS facilities, ranging from the Wellness Center, fields, martial arts room, dance studio, racquetball courts and basketball courts.

“My vision is to build a multi-use facility that is a hybrid of a student union and a student recreation center,” said OPERS director Andrea Willer.

Willer thinks an additional 100,000 square feet of space is necessary to meet increasing enrollment. This addition would include three basketball courts, 25,000 square feet of cardio and strength training, multiple specialized studios — including dance, martial arts, spin and TRX — and lounges or study spaces for students. At a rough estimate of $1,000 per square foot for new construction, she estimates the project will cost around $100 million. Renovation and expansion costs to current facilities are not included in this estimate.

“The current facilities were not designed for 17,000 students, plus faculty and staff,” Willer said. “The facilities were not designed for a growing NCAA athletic program in which we have 14 teams competing, or a sport club program that has exploded in recent years going from four clubs to 32 clubs, or the wave of recreational clubs that are now in the 30s as well. OPERS is really the hub of all activity on campus.”

 

READY FOR A REFERENDUM

Students currently pay two fees per quarter to fund OPERS. Enacted in 1985, the “Student Life Facilities Fee” (SLF-1) funds the Student Union, Press Center and OPERS. This fee is $30 per quarter for undergraduate and graduate students, and 65 percent of the money funds OPERS by paying the debts on the construction of several facilities and annual operating costs.

Passed in 1996, the “OPERS Fitness Facilities Fee,” also known as Measure B, asks students to pay $15 per quarter to fund the “construction and furnishing of the OPERS fitness center.” While Measure B allowed for the construction of the Wellness Center, it was not intended to cover annual operating costs.

SLF-1 will end in 2017, resulting in a cut to the annual $500,000 OPERS operating budget. Willer and Hammonds said OPERS cannot sustain this loss of funds and continue to operate only supported by Measure B.

“Come 2016, we’re not going to have the money to run OPERS,” Hammonds said. “That’s the pressure. We need to extend our current referendum, then hopefully pass something new to extend or remodel [the facilities]. It’s a lot of pressure.”

Hammonds notes that one big referendum to cover operating costs and to expand might not be realistic. Instead, an OPERS expansion might come in phases, in which referendums allow for singular facilities to expand one at a time.

These referendums, according to the UCSC Policy and Procedures Governing Campus Elections, create or modify student fees, which are allocated as specified by the measure. They are voted upon by the affected students, either undergraduate, graduate or both, and needs a simple majority to pass, given 33 percent of eligible students vote. Last spring, two student fee measures, despite earning the majority vote, were not passed because the threshold was not met.

“When the fee sunsets, they are going to have to deal with a lot of cuts,” said UCSC Student Union Assembly (SUA) Internal Vice Chair Max Hufft. “It could range from anything from having to shut the gym down, cutting hours, cutting staff or cutting parts of the gym altogether. There are just so many different options and outcomes.”

Hufft said Measure B was not intended to support OPERS in the long term. Rather, it was designed to build the Wellness Center and have it run for the first few years.

“With severe budget cuts since 1996, that referendum saved the facility and kept it open, but that money is going to be out too,” Hufft said. “There are a lot of ways to get funds on campus, but for student services they’re really hard to get and some of [those funds] won’t support the amount of money they are going to need.”

Hufft could not speculate on how much a new student fee would cost, but agrees the fee is definitely going to increase from the $15 per quarter Measure B currently costs.

OPERS director Andrea Willer is currently working on drawing up referendums in preparation for alterations and rejections.

“I will be forming a strategic work group to develop a recommendation on how to mitigate this reality,” Willer said. “Options may include asking students to continue to fund the $30 per quarter or include the fee in order to renovate and expand OPERS facilities.”

However, when the referendum is proposed, students will vote on a measure they will most likely never see come to fruition. While the fee could stagger, starting at a lower amount until the facility is built, if passed, it could take two to three years to design and build. For this reason, UCSC OPERS facility center supervisor Todd Hammonds calls the referendum a “tough sell.”

 

The first floor of the Wellness Center is closed MOnday through Thursday mornings for physical education classes, forcing all other students to work out on the second floor. Photo by Matthew Tsuda.
The first floor of the Wellness Center is closed Monday through Thursday mornings for physical education classes, forcing all other students to work out on the second floor. Photo by Matthew Tsuda.

THE WAITING GAME

Timmy Vilaythong visits the gym six times a week and every time notices a space issue. With just two squat racks, lines frequently form and benches fill up quickly around peak times.

Vilaythong said the beginning of the quarter is an especially busy time at the Wellness Center, and waiting 20 to 30 minutes for a machine or bench is not uncommon.

“The OPERS facility is frustrating in terms of its size,” Vilaythong said. “The equipment is nice, but they need more of it and there is just not enough space.”

Vilaythong adds cutting the Wellness Center hours would only lead to more of a space issue, and closing the gym would cause him, along with many other students, to lose a major stress reliever.

However, Vilaythong is also one of many students who frequents OPERS facilities, but would not vote to pass a referendum if it meant paying for facilities he would never use. OPERS student employee Hadley Blangy recognizes many students feel this way.

“I think it really depends on how much it costs and when it will be done, what the expansions are going to be,” Blangy said. “I have no idea what the student population would say about that.”

While working at the gym, Blangy stresses the importance of patience and understands the frustration among students trying to work out in a busy space.

“People don’t really complain about getting in, but once they’re in it’s all about how there’s not enough equipment and it needs more space,” Blangy said. “This is a huge school with a really diverse population and I think everyone should be able to work out when they want to and not have to plan around peak times. I know a lot of other UCs have really nice gyms and I think we should also be privilege to that.”

Men’s volleyball head coach Todd Hollenbeck voiced his frustration over a lack of private space for UCSC National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes to work out. Hollenbeck said OPERS facilitators advise his entire team not to come to the Wellness Center at the same time. The team does, however, work out together during less busy, early morning hours.

He would support a referendum that could potentially provide NCAA teams with a small private space.

“As an athletics program at a Division III school, we have the smallest budget out of every Division III school,” Hollenbeck said. “Our guys have to work twice as hard just to get anything done because we don’t have a place to work out, and we don’t have a training staff that can actually be in the gym and work with them.”

 

“WE WILL GET THERE”

In 2009 OPERS director Andrea Willer worked at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) as the recreation director when the university’s gym was awarded Gold Leadership in Energy and Environment Design certification. The two-story, 95,000 square foot gym was designed to save water and energy to be a more sustainable facility. Construction of this facility cost $41 million, funded by student fees starting in 2006.

Referencing Willer’s previous experience creating a referendum at a public university to fund recreational facilities, OPERS facility center supervisor Todd Hammonds is confident in his ability to expand OPERS in a sustainable way.

“Her line to us as a professional staff is, ‘We will get there,’” Hammonds said. “It might be 20 years from now, but we will get there.”

SUA Internal Vice Chair Max Hufft plans to work with Willer to get a referendum for OPERS on the ballot this spring. He acknowledges it might be a two-year project, but aims to at least get students talking about the future of OPERS.

While Willer and Hammonds voiced their concerns over finding enough student support to pass a referendum that will expand OPERS, Hufft remains hopeful.

“There will have to be a lot of outreach to different communities to support something like this, but ultimately I think it has a really high potential of passing,” Hufft said, “especially if you add on new perks too, people will really rally behind that. There are a lot of people who use that facility. I think it’s easy if you bring everyone who uses that facility to rally behind it and also get votes out. It will definitely pass.”

Meanwhile, Hammonds continues to work with their current budget to improve OPERS as much as possible. He is currently developing a small gym on the upper level of the West Field House, which will be available for students in mid-November.

Courts are painted. Desks are moved around. Lockers replace cubbies. While these Band-Aids continue to temporarily mask many issues at OPERS, a referendum is the only way to tell if those Band-Aids will pile up, or be removed.